Blu-ray review: “School Ties” (1992)

“School Ties” (1992)

Drama

Running Time: 110 minutes

Written by: Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan

Directed by: Robert Mandel

Featuring: Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Randall Batinkoff, Andrew Lowery, Cole Hauser, Ben Affleck and Anthony Rapp

Charlie Dillon: “You know something? I’m still gonna get into Harvard. And in 10 years no one will remember any of this. But you’ll still be a goddamn Jew.”

David Green: “And you’ll still be a prick.”

Critical Commentary

Released this month on the Imprint label on Blu-ray is “School Ties” (1992), the early 1990s drama about institutionalised racism and bigotry and unfortunately, they remain relevant although of course sexual identity can be added to that was well. Of course looking back on this film now in 2023 it is hard to believe two things, one, that this movie was not a success with so many A-list actors and two, that there was anyone in this cast that would not at some point be a huge star, say hello to Randall Batinkoff, I bet he feels unlucky.

“School Ties” is set in 1959, where working-class Jewish 17-year-old David Greene, from Scranton, Pennsylvania, receives a football scholarship to St. Matthew’s Catholic boarding school, an exclusive Massachusetts prep school, for his senior year because of his excellent grades and exceptional ability to play football. Upon arrival, he meets his teammates Rip Van Kelt, Charlie Dillon, Jack Connors, and his roommate Chris Reese, the most well-known and popular students who are from well-to-do families, and learns of the school’s cherished honor code system. Soon learning that his newfound friends, as well as the majority of staff and students at this preparatory school, have wide spread, negative and stereotypical views about Jews, he chooses to not reveal his ethnicity to them.

There have been many films made over the decades about institutionalized racism and bigotry and unfortunately, they remain relevant. Misguided and hateful prejudices have a bad habit of festering and holding on long enough to rear their ugly heads again and again making them ripe topics for feature films. It is obvious from everyday news that antisemitism and racism are still a problem across the globe. In 1992, “School Ties” attempted to address this race issue within an elite prep school system that often gatekeeps entry to ivy league universities like Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. There is no doubt that it has some very good performances but the story is a little routine especially with so many other movies about similar issues.

“School Ties” is led by Brendan Fraser’s performance as David, this as a period in his career when he had made some comedies and was trying something new, it is not surprising that he went from this and others back to comedies. Fraser definitely stands out alongside other up-and-coming actors like Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Cole Hauser, and Anthony Rapp who all deliver impressive performances.

There is no doubt that “School Ties” is a very good movie, even more so now than when no hampered by the baggage of a studio hoping for a hit. This is by no means a perfect movie, it has a script that is loaded with tropes and it is directed in an uninspired way. The movie was co-written by Dick Wolf who was writing around this stage of his career before he would be known the creator of police procedural franchises. However you can see the similarities with broad storytelling which can work for awhile but after a some time as a creator this is found out which may explain his move to television .

I always enjoyed this movie but it disappointed and disappeared on its initial release and has become a curio because of its cast of young up and coming future A list actors. Possibly the reputation is “School Ties” was better than the actuality as it was only available on DVD, now that it is on a new Blu-ray it is time for it be seen for what it is, a very good drama that falls short of greatness possibly because of its script and its direction.

Technical Commentary

Video

“School Ties” arrives with an overall decent 1.78:1 1080p Transfer. Well-detailed with an intact but prominent grain structure, the transfer also shows its age as it doesn’t appear to be a recent scan. The image has a crispy quality indicative of an older master complete with some edge enhancement. Where close-ups, middle shots, and some outdoor sequences can look quite good, they also don’t fully come together. There’s some slight banding on some tight textures and image depth is a bit restrained where black levels never quite resolve sticking preciously close to crush territory. Primaries are in good shape with bright bold reds, blues, yellows, and overall healthy human skin tones. Film elements are also relatively clean without issues. This is an overall good transfer.

Audio

“School Ties” arrives with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a LPCM 2.0 track. Both are excellent in their own ways so it comes down to dealer’s choice. For most of this viewing, I rolled with the 5.1 track and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Even in a stuffy location like a prep school where things are kept front/center, there was still plenty of surround channel activity emanating from busy hallways, classrooms, football games, and dining halls. Dialog is clean and clear for both tracks and Maurice Jarre’s beautiful score gets plenty of attention. No hiss or age-related issues to report. 

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary featuring Jim Hemphill
  • Interview with Matt Damon 
  • Interview with Brendan Fraser 
  • Interview with producer Sherry Lansing 
  • Interview with Chris O’Donnell 
  • Interview with director Robert Mandel 
  • Theatrical Trailer

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